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Additional lights on vehicles – the debate continues

The increase of additional supplementary lighting on vehicles in South Africa has brought into the spotlight the legal implications of installing these lights for drivers. Dewald Ranft, Chairman of the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA), an affiliate association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), says vehicle owners and installers are not clear on what is legally acceptable. “There is much debate in the industry around this issue. With the South African landscape being what it is there are still many areas that require additional lighting when travelling at night. Vehicle owners are looking for a solution that is within legal requirements,” he says.
Mic van Zyl, Director of Ironman 4×4 Africa, agrees adding that many modern vehicles have very poor lighting. “It is a real issue. We surmise that the lighting is poor in order to prevent the blinding of drivers of oncoming vehicles. In our country, however, we have wild animals, especially antelope, that are a constant and deadly danger to anybody travelling on rural roads at night. Add to this the abundance of livestock including cattle, goats and donkeys that are left unattended to roam in these rural areas. There is a definite need for bright lights to assist the drivers to spot potential animals next to the road and prevent potential animal strikes,” he says.
This issue is not only a South African issue. Australia have a massive Kangaroo problem and in the northern parts of Europe and North America, large wild animals pose the same threat.
Van Zyl says it has been a long-standing practice to fit additional spot lights to enhance the inefficient standard lights on vehicles. Not so long ago a vehicle owner’s choice of lighting was limited to Halogen lights. More recently HID or Xenon lighting has became popular. However, this type of lighting is very expensive and sensitive to constant dipping of the high beam. “The use of LED lighting has enjoyed steady growth on modern vehicles and is mostly used on all lighting applications except for head lights,” he says. As LED technology is advancing at an increasing pace, more and more modern vehicles use LED lighting technology in head lamps. This has, of course, also filtered through to spot lights.
“With the advent of LED as a light source for spot lights, bar lights have become a popular alternative to traditional round spot lights, due to their profile. They are very suitable to mount across the top of a bull bar or across the top of a windscreen. Many LEDs can be mounted into the longitudinal shape of a light bar giving a good amount of light,” he says.
Ranft points out, however, that LED lights are inferior to HID lights from a distance penetration point of view, struggling to give good light past 400m. LED lights do, however, give a broad spread in the light beam ideal for spotting any roadside animals, for example.
Van Zyl explains that the design of a spot light is such as to enable as much light to exit the spot light as possible. The light beam is not focussed by the spot light reflector or the spot light lens. “They are exceptionally bright and will certainly blind oncoming traffic which is very dangerous.”
“To this end it is important that the spot lights are used responsibly,” he says. Spot lights should always be wired in such a way that they can be disabled totally by their own switch as well as switched on and off by the vehicle’s high beam switch. “This way, they can be totally disabled when driving around town and, when they are being used while travelling at night in a rural area, they can be instantly switched off along with the vehicle’s high beam lights in order to prevent blinding oncoming traffic.”
He says, unfortunately, the road traffic regulations have not kept up with this new lighting technology and as such, it would be illegal to use any lighting on a road vehicle that does not comply with the Road Act.
In simple terms, the Act pertaining to vehicle lighting specifically with reference to spot lights includes the following:

  • Only an even number of lights may be fitted to the front of a vehicle.
  • White head lights including spot lights may not exceed 6 lights in total.
  • No light may be fitted across the vertical median of the vehicle.
  • No light may be fitted higher that the leading edge of the bonnet.
  • No lights may be fitted on the roof of the vehicle.
  • Halogen light globes may not exceed 55 Watt. This does not equate to LED lights.

Ranft points out that LED light bars, of course, break many of these rules due to their design.
Very recently, the road laws pertaining to spot lights were amended in the USA and in Australia to accommodate the use of LED lights and LED light bars. In certain off-road instances, where the grass is long, for example, it is best to have the light source mounted high up on the vehicle and this has in fact been accommodated in the amended road laws in both these countries.
“Here in South Africa, Ironman 4×4 Africa has been in touch with the authorities and we are currently in discussions with them regarding the possible amendment of our road laws to accommodate these lights. It does not look good though as the Department of Transport have a penchant for looking at the European laws rather than the USA or Australia. The problem is that Europe does not have the same road hazard problems as South Africa, Australia and the USA. Time will tell,” says van Zyl.
In the meantime, vehicle owners need to be aware that it is illegal to fit a single bar light to the front of their vehicle, explains Ranft. “Until there has been a change in regulations around this issue we advise vehicle owners to be cautious about adding any additional lighting to their vehicles,” he concludes.